Most people expected the Blackhawks to struggle this year. There are some nice pieces coming, and a motivated Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have been strong to begin the 2018-19 season, but Chicago’s last four games have been ugly.
On Thursday night in Edmonton, Nick Schmaltz was a healthy scratch. He didn’t have a good game in Vancouver the night before and took one for the team the following night.
Coach Joel Quenneville wasn’t happy after Wednesday night’s game. He was more agitated after Thursday’s loss.
Are the wheels starting to come off?
The Blackhawks dressed Chris Kunitz, Andreas Martinsen, Luke Johnson, Marcus Kruger and John Hayden on Thursday. Those five players have six combined points thus far this season. Because of the Hawks’ depth, those five are battling for bottom six ice time. When the Hawks signed Kunitz, re-acquired Kruger and re-signed Martinsen it meant wasn’t going to be available for prospects like Dylan Sikura, who is now skating in Rockford.
Chicago’s front office added veterans before last season and it failed. Lance Bouma, Tomas Jurco, Tommy Wingels and, yes, Patrick Sharp meant younger players who might actually add something to the lineup like Vinnie Hinostroza, Ryan Hartman, Matthew Highmore and Hayden didn’t have available ice time.
Hinostroza registered 25 points in 50 games last year. Bouma and Jurco posted 19 combined points in 82 combined games played.
The Blackhawks are paying Toews and Kane two of the biggest salaries in the NHL, and both of them are nearing the age of 30. At some point you view them as the “experience” young players need to emulate and stop bringing in bandaids who aren’t viable NHL contributors on rosters with postseason aspirations any more.
Kunitz, 39, has experience. Terrific. The last time he had more than 40 points in a season was 2013-14. He went to Tampa as a free agent last year and could have benefited from a younger, faster, deeper lineup than the Hawks have in Chicago. He scored 13 goals.
The line to sign Kunitz wasn’t very long.
But the number of people who want to see Sikura in the NHL is growing. He has two goals and five assists in nine games with the IceHogs this season after collecting three assists in five NHL games with the Hawks last year.
Sikura is tied for the points lead in Rockford with his brother, Tyler, and Highmore.
I, for one, would rather watch the younger Sikura brother and Highmore gain valuable NHL experience while contributing to the Blackhawks than another shift from Kunitz, Kruger or Martinsen.
After Thursday night’s loss the frustration from Quenneville was clear. Sitting Schmaltz sends a message that not only was the coach not happy with his young forward’s performance, but it was also a subtle reminder that there’s dead weight on the NHL roster that gives Q “options” for playing time, and the results when those players are in the lineup is a shutout loss.
Last year the Blackhawks waited until it was apparent the playoffs weren’t likely to begin dumping underwhelming veterans like Bouma. If the fans are to believe the pretty television commercials that the players aren’t happy about missing the postseason last year, it’s up to the front office to put them in position to get back into the dance.
And wasting any more ice time on Kunitz is the most glaring example of a philosophical failure.
It’s November. Do what’s best for the team’s chances now. Let the kids play.